Aboriginal camps 'failed states', say opposition MPs

Alice Springs, Australia 2009
Image caption In towns like Alice Springs, aboriginal camps are 'squalid and dysfunctional'

Squalid and dysfunctional Aboriginal camps in the Northern Territory have been compared to "failed states" by conservatives in Australia.

They say the settlements are plagued by rampant alcoholism, child abuse and violence.

The federal opposition leader Tony Abbott is urging the government to launch an emergency intervention in the troubled communities.

Some indigenous groups agree and say that immediate action is needed.

They point to the need to protect vulnerable children in towns such as Alice Springs.

Four years ago troops, social workers and medical teams were sent into dozens of remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.

The unprecedented intervention was a response to alarming rates of child sexual abuse but many indigenous elders said the policy was racist and complained about a lack of consultation.

Emergency intervention

There is now a call for the Australian government to take similar steps in larger towns, including the central desert community of Alice Springs.

Its impoverished Aboriginal settlements are blighted by alcohol abuse and violence.

"The intervention that the Howard government launched and the current government has continued has been substantially successful in reducing social dysfunction in remote communities but a lot of people who, let's face it, want to drink and get up to the usual mischief, they've gone to towns like Alice and that is dramatically worsened social dysfunction there," said the opposition leader Mr Abbott.

"When you've got a serious social crisis, you've got to take serious measures to address it," he said.

The government says more police officers have been deployed in Alice Springs, while new programmes aimed at tackling alcohol abuse are being introduced.

But some community leaders, including Steve Brown from the group Action for Alice, believe that sweeping emergency measures are required.

"You cannot have a town that has children unfed, unwanted wandering its streets with nobody prepared to do anything about it and any decent person would have to think that when you've reached such a state, for a modern Australia, yeah, we're a disaster zone," said Mr Brown.

Australia's original inhabitants have a mesmeric culture and a history stretching back up to 60,000 years.

But in the 21st Century they remain cast adrift, often destitute and forgotten, in one of the world's wealthiest nations.

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